I was reading on my Kindle and my wife was in the laundry room, using her sewing machine. The machine stopped, and Michelle came out to announce, “We’ve lost our electricity.”
Power outages are never fun for anyone, but for people who live outside of town, an outage is even more of a problem. Most of us country folks get our water from a well, which means unless we have bottled water – or bottled something – we can’t drink or prepare meals. In addition, we can’t wash dishes, clothes, ourselves or anything else. But the worst is that we can’t flush the toilets. During one long, cold spell several years ago, after the power had been off a couple of days, we broke the ice on the back pond and filled buckets with pond water that we used to flush the toilet.
No lights, no heat, no water, no television, radio, stereo or Alexa. And no computer for me. (Michelle has a laptop, but I work on a desktop.) There was nothing for me to do but sit in the dark and think about how dependent we have become on outside sources, almost all of which were developed to “free” us from the drudgery of life. But the more freedom we acquire, the more we become dependent on our acquisitions.
Of course, this is not a new complaint. In the late 1700’s, Ned Ludd, a worker who, fearing for his job, destroyed a weaving machine in a textile mill. Thus, the eponym, “Luddite,” entered the vocabulary, meaning one who mistrusts technology. In the 19th century, folk hero of story and song, John Henry, “died with his hammer in his hand” after competing against a steel-driving machine. Advances in technology continue to replace human labor. The use of computers, artificial intelligence, robots, 3-D printers, etc. will continue to proliferate until we have virtually nothing to do. (The “Father of Economics,” John Maynard Keynes predicted in 1930 that his grandchildren would see a 15-hour work week.) Today, 80 percent of the American labor market is in “service jobs.”
I don’t want to give the impression that I am a Luddite. Actually, I like avoiding labor. On the other hand, I am wary of the lure of over-dependency. (Alexa, the voice of my smart speaker, seems upset because, beyond giving short commands, I won’t talk to her.) No doubt in the near future, highly-skilled robots will be able to do amazing things – shop for groceries, prepare a meal, set the table, wash and put away the dishes, etc. That’s great, but I don’t want to forget how to do these things.
My primary complaint about technological “advancement” is that we don’t give enough thought to the ramifications before we rush in. Coal and petroleum lay under the earth for millions of years. After discovering their potential, we dug out billions of tons of coal, pumped billions of barrels of oil, then burned it all in a geological twinkling. Now we act surprised that we’ve polluted the atmosphere.
The general population knew nothing about plastic until after World War II. I’d never heard of it when I was a kid. Today, its ubiquity is testimony to its utility. It’s man-made, nearly indestructible stuff. But apparently, nobody gave a thought to its indestructibility before mass producing it. Consequently, we have a mass of plastic bigger than the state of Texas swirling around in the northern Pacific.
Then there’s erosion, clear-cut forests, disappearing animal and plant species, chemical poisons ... well, you’ve heard it before. But, as I read Genesis, when God handed over the keys to the family car, He didn’t instruct Adam to “just drive like Hell until it breaks down.”
Chuck Avery is a retired high school teacher who grew up in Connersville’s Bucktown neighborhood.